Pfeffernüsse Cookies (German Christmas Cookies)
Peppernut cookies, or Pfeffernusse, are small German spice cookies loaded with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. There’s molasses, too, for a richer flavor, and a splash of brandy for brightness. But, the ingredient that sets these little guys apart is freshly ground black pepper!
Pfeffernusse cookies are classic German treats (like spritz cookies) and they are often made around Christmas time.
What Are the Special Ingredients in Pfeffernusse Cookies?
- Ground Black Pepper – Pepper is what makes these pfeffernusse cookies most unique. Americans often shy away from the idea of pepper in sweet desserts, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fun spicy kick it gives them. You can use any ground pepper, but white pepper works nicely if you don’t want to see black specks in the cookies.
- Holiday spices – Once you get past the pepper, the spices look like many other German Christmas cookies. They include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves.
- Molasses – Just like in ginger molasses cookies, molasses gives the cookies a rich, deep flavor. You can use light or dark molasses (dark will give a stronger flavor). I do not recommend using blackstrap molasses as it has a more bitter flavor.
- Brandy – The recipe doesn’t use a lot of brandy; rather, it has just enough to add a touch of brandy flavor. If you don’t want to purchase brandy only for this recipe, you can use rum or even replace the brandy with apple juice.
- Almonds – Finely chopped almonds give the cookies an extra little crunch. Fun fact: pfeffernusse cookies don’t have the word nuts in the them because of the nuts in the recipe; it’s because they are traditionally shaped like nuts.
Crunchy or Soft?
This pfeffernuse cookie recipe is versatile, as it can produce both soft and crunchy cookies depending on how you prepare and store them.
The smaller you make your dough balls and the longer you bake them for, the crunchier your peppernut cookies will be. The insides may be chewy when they first come out of the oven, but they will get quite crunchy if you leave them uncovered for a few days!
That being said, if you prefer your pfeffernusse cookies softer, like a spicier version of ginger molasses cookies, just make the dough balls a bit larger and store them in an airtight container.
I dust my peppernut cookies in powdered sugar, but some people prefer to leave them plain or top them with a simple glaze made of powdered sugar and milk or lemon juice.
Although I typically make sugar cookie snowman cookies, I’ve also made peppernut cookies that look like snowmen with peppercorn buttons and eyes.
Frequently Asked Questions
This literally translates to “pepper nut!” These German Christmas cookies got their name from the signature addition of black pepper that gives them a unique spiced flavor. Pfeffernusse cookies don’t have any actual nuts in them, but rather were traditionally shaped like nuts.
While there are similarities between the cookies, especially in the types of spices used to flavor each kind of cookie dough, gingerbread is lacking in pepper. Many recipes for gingerbread also include brown sugar, which isn’t necessary for pfeffernusse cookies thanks to the addition of molasses.
If you ignore the first p, the rest of the word is more or less pronounced as it’s spelled. Fef-er-noos. Easier than you might think!
- Zimtsterne (German cinnamon star cookies)
- Ginger molasses cookies
- Double chocolate chip cookies
- Christmas snowman cookies
- Hedgehog cookies
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper use white pepper if you don't want to see the black specks
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons molasses any kind except blackstrap
- 3 tablespoons brandy substitute rum or apple juice if you don't want to use brandy
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar for decorating
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a small cup, mix molasses and brandy.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Mix in egg yolks.
- Mix in chopped almonds.
- Alternately mix flour mixture and molasses/brandy into the butter/sugar mixture in thirds, mixing between each addition until just combined.
- Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least eight hours or up to three days to allow the flavors to meld.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F.
- Roll small balls of dough and place a few inches apart from each other on a cookie sheet. The smaller you make the balls, the crunchier the cookies will be. For softer cookies, make larger balls.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until set.
- Cool the cookies on a cooling rack for a few minutes and then toss in powdered sugar.
- Store loosely covered for crispy cookies or in an airtight container for soft cookies.
- Adapted from Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies [paid link].
- Pfeffernusse cookies actually taste better as they age. So, if you can wait, let them sit a few days before eating them.
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